For my first ‘Inspiring Women’ feature I had the pleasure of interviewing my boss, the CEO and Founder of Launch Group – a boutique Public Relations (PR) agency in Sydney.
Fleur started Launch 10 years ago and sheds light on her PR career:
How did you end up in PR?
My earliest passion was writing – which turned into a pursuit of journalism. When I studied and worked in America, it became apparent that PR people had more positive influence in business than journalists and I was attracted to that. I revere the journalistic profession and have remained closely connected to that in PR by working within a media organisation – at Channel Seven and also by focussing on clients that are media and entertainment based.
When was your big career ‘break’?
There were quite a few people who gave me a career break when they technically shouldn’t have – from the creative agency CEO who let me write major campaign advertising copy as a graduate, the CEO who liked disturbing the status quo and decided to put me on the City Council executive amongst the grey suits and beards in my 20’s. I am really grateful for those people who took a punt on me when I was an untested young person. However, I think I gave myself the greatest career break by starting my own business – it has truly allowed me to shape my own career in exactly the direction I’m interested in.
You’re very good at staying calm in stressful situations – is there a trick to it?
Oddly, I’m very calm in business, but quite an anxious person in other areas. PR is a highly stressful and adrenaline based profession that only those who work within it truly understand. I think people who are attracted to PR and stay with it are possibly attracted to this – I really enjoy the challenges PR and media throw up test their initiative, strategic and problem solving ability.
Is being a calm person something you learned over time or have you always been that way inclined?
For about my first decade, I was freaking out inside most weeks. That’s because it takes quite a few years to see things come around in a ‘cycle’ of sorts so you understand what you are observing. There’s nothing black and white about PR. It’s always a mix of instincts and judgement. So there’s no rule book that anyone can give you. Observing positive and negative role models helps enormously. I once worked for a boss who had open panic attacks and eventually lost their role as a consequence. I also worked for a strong female who showed me by example that when you are counselling executives going through a crisis your most important focus must always be helping calm that executive’s emotional state – no amount of great strategic advice in the world can help them otherwise.At the end of the day confidence and being calm are closely linked. And the thing I have learned about confidence is that you have to simply decide to have confidence – it never “arrives” at a convenient time.
How do you juggle everything?
I’ve always found that the more things you have on your plate, the more efficient you become. The more time you have, the less efficient. Bring it on I say – as long as it’s things you actually want to spend your time on. This year I have a goal of ruthlessly prioritising – which has meant I have said no to a lot of things I would normally take on. What I have learned from that exercise is that I don’t miss the things I said no to – and it has created much greater opportunities for me in the areas I care about right now.
PR is quite a female strong environment – do you find it hard to stand out amongst all the other women? How do you stand out?
Interesting point. I’ve never thought about standing out as a gender issue. In terms of standing out generally, I think word of mouth works wonders in our field. If you do really good work, your reputation brings your more and better work and vice versa. I’ve always found it important to try to generate a substantial understanding of a client’s business and their industry so they don’t write you off as a superficial PR person.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
Two things stand out for me – one was something my CEO said to me when I was the youngest and only female on his executive team. He told me that I started most of my comments around the executive table by apologising for having a point of view – for example saying “just quickly” or “sorry to jump in” which basically communicated that I didn’t feel very important and so people behaved accordingly. I wouldn’t have put you there if I didn’t think you were capable he said – you need to own the power. I didn’t fully understand what he meant then, but over time I’ve tried to watch how I conduct myself in a powerful or intimidating setting.
The other one was a female manager who fought for my promotion against the wishes of her senior executive on the basis that I was too young for the role. She told me that there are always people who are ageist and age had nothing to do with whether or not you could do the job. I have tried to be as just as possible in this area myself since then – letting staff take on the role they are ready for rather than focussing on traditional factors such as age or linear experience. I’ve found that to be a really rewarding strategy as talent spotting rather than experience spotting delivers much greater returns for all parties.
Follow Fleur on Twitter: @fleurbrown